By Javeed Syed
Chicago: I am an independent professional photographer of Indian origin and my wife, Shazia Syed, is an independent professional videographer. We have a four-your-old son. We are all citizens of America holding American passports.
We have been on a photographic and a videographic assignment to cover an Indian wedding in Mississauga, ON, Canada, but we have been refused entry at the US-Canadian border.
We traveled all the way from Chicago to Detroit to enter Canada through the US-Canadian border. But we were stopped at the border and refused entry. A lady customs officer at the border told us that we couldn’t take up an assignment like that because it would deprive jobs of Canadians. She said that Canada has several photographers and videographers whose services my Indian-Canadian client could seek.
We explained we are independent professionals and this was a one-time assignment given to us by an Indian family in Canada for covering an Indian wedding. The Customs official told us an Indian Canadian family was not supposed to hire us. We explained to her that an Indian wedding is full of customs and ceremonial moments, which a Canadian photographer cannot understand and that is why we have been hired by the Indian Canadian family. We told her that there are several cultures and religions in the world and many of them live in Canada. Every culture has its own customs, which only a photographer of that culture will be able to understand. We were asked by the Canadian customs official to get a work permit from a Canadian consulate or the Canadian embassy in the US. We told them that the wedding was next day and there was no time to comply with that sort of formalities. We tried to convince the urgency and importance of the event, but the Canadian border officials did not listen and they turned us back.
We stayed in a hotel overnight in Detroit and visited the Canadian consulate next morning. The consulate told us to fill a form and submit it with some supporting documents that obviously we did not carry with us. They also told us that we have to wait for more than three weeks to hear from them. It all cost us a substantial amount of money for our travel between Chicago to Detroit and for our hotel stay at Detroit. All the effort has gone waste.
In addition, we booked our accommodation in the Monte Carlo Hotel in Brampton, ON, Canada, for four days and we lost 75 percent of our money because we could not cross the border.
We have been living in Chicago for the past 30 years and traveled to many countries on assignments, but this was the first time we were stopped at the border and refused permission to go to Canada.
In the US, we have seen several photographers and other venders come from all over the world and fulfill their assignments. In several previous occasions, we visited places like Cancun, Mexico, and other countries on photographic assignments to cover weddings and other special events. Is it not something strange that the Canadian authorities treat shabbily the professional photographers and videographers who are on an assignment? Will there be some remedy to it?